Trudy's Reviews > Hannah Coulter

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
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's review
Oct 10, 2010

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Read in October, 2010

This was the first of Berry's Port Williams books for me and I enjoyed it. I think it will appeal to people who also like The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency and the Mitford series. Sweet and mellow, a life story told by the subject, with some nuggets of wisdom interjected on the way. It makes WW II out to be the turning point of American society's attitude toward the land on which we live; how we've ceased to be one with it by working it and gleaning from it the way people used to do before the invention of machines and large corporations and stock markets.

Some good quotes: "He loved the old free work-swapping with our kinfolks and friends, who needed no bossing but out of their regard and respect for one another did what they were supposed to do. When we would have to hire somebody, as we sometimes did, and he proved unsatisfactory, as he usually did, Nathan would say, 'Another damned employee.' And that was the harshest criticism he ever made of the children: 'You are acting like a damned employee.' "

"One of the attractions of moving away into the life of employment [as opposed to a life of subsistence farming], I think, is being disconnected and free, unbothered by membership [in a community that knows and looks after each other for generations]. It is a life of beginnings without memories, but is is a life too that ends without being remembered. The life of membership with all its cumbers is traded away for the life of employment that makes itself free by forgetting you clean as a whistle when you are not of any more use. When they get to retirement age [people] will be cast out of place and out of mind like worn-out replaceable parts, to be alone at the last maybe and soon forgotten. 'But the membership,' Andy said, 'keeps the memories even of horses and mules and milk cows and dogs.' "

"Living without expectations is hard but, when you can do it, good. Living without hope is harder, and that is bad. You have got to have hope and you mustn't shirk it."

"The old harvest crews and their talk and laughter at kitchen tables loaded with food have been replaced by machines, and by migrant laborers who eat at the store. The old thrift that once kept us alive has been replaced by extravagance and waste. People are living as if they think they are in a movie. They are all looking in one direction, toward 'a better place,' and what they see is no thicker than a screen."

There is also a haunting chapter on the battle of Okinawa, in which one of the main characters is reported to have participated. I think every politician who promotes war should have to memorize this chapter.

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